Cultural Studies of Science Education

, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 345–371 | Cite as

Developing a framework for critical science agency through case study in a conceptual physics context

  • Sreyashi Jhumki BasuEmail author
  • Angela Calabrese Barton
  • Neil Clairmont
  • Donya Locke


In this manuscript we examine how two students develop and express agency in and through high school physics. We tell the stories of two youth from a low-income, urban community to elucidate the important components of critical science agency in a physics context, and to situate a set of claims about how youth develop and express this concept. This research is part of a larger multiyear study of democratic practice in middle- and high-school science. We present three claims: (a) that critical science agency is intimately related to the leveraging and development of identity, (b) that critical science agency involves the strategic deployment of resources , and (c) that developing critical science agency is an iterative and generative process. Two university researchers have co-written this paper with the two students whose experiences serve as the cases under investigation, to provide both an “emic” perspective and student-focused voices that complement and challenge the researchers’ voices.


Agency Critical Generative Identity Iterative Physics Resources 


  1. Benchmarks for Scientific Literacy. (2003). Project 2061. Cary: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Blackburn, M. (2004). Understanding agency beyond school-sanctioned activities. Theory Into Practice, 43, 102–110.Google Scholar
  3. Butler, J. (2004). Undoing gender. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  4. Committee on Trends in Federal Spending on Scientific and Engineering Research, National Research Council. (2001). Trends in federal support of research and graduate education. Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  5. Elmesky, R., & Tobin, K. (2005). Expanding our understanding of urban science education by expanding the roles of students as researchers. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 42, 807–828. doi: 10.1002/tea.20079.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.Google Scholar
  7. Gollub, J., & Spital, R. (2002). Advanced physics in high schools. Physics Today, 55, 48–53. doi: 10.1063/1.1485584.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Harding, S. (1993). Rethinking standpoint epistemology: What is “strong objectivity”? In: L. Alcoff & E. Potter (Eds.), Feminist epistemologies (pp. 49–82). London: Routledge .Google Scholar
  9. Hobson, A. (2003). Physics literacy, energy and the environment. Physics Education, 38, 109–114. doi: 10.1088/0031-9120/38/2/301.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Holland, D. (1998). Identity and agency in cultural worlds. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Kelly, A. (2004). Newton in the Big Apple: Issues of equity in physics access and enrollment in New York City public schools. Paper presented at the American Association of Research Education, San Diego, CA.Google Scholar
  12. Kincheloe, J., & Steinberg, S. (1998). Students as researchers: Creating classrooms that matter. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  13. Laugksch, R. (2000). Scientific literacy: A conceptual overview. Science Education, 84, 71–94. doi :10.1002/(SICI)1098-237X(200001)84:1≤71::AID-SCE6≥3.0.CO;2-C.Google Scholar
  14. Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Miller, J. (2002). Civic scientific literacy: a necessity in the 21st century. Federation of American Scientists Public Interest Report, 55, 3–6.Google Scholar
  16. National Research Council. (1996). National Science Education Standards. Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  17. Nespor, J. (1997). Tangled up in school: Politics, space, bodies, and signs in the educational process. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  18. Turner, E., & Font, B. (2003). Fostering critical mathematical agency: Urban middle school students engage in mathematics to understand, critique and act upon their world. Paper presented at the American Education Studies Association Conference, Mexico City.Google Scholar
  19. Yin, R. (1994). Case study research: design and methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sreyashi Jhumki Basu
    • 1
    Email author
  • Angela Calabrese Barton
    • 2
  • Neil Clairmont
    • 1
  • Donya Locke
    • 1
  1. 1.Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human DevelopmentNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Teacher EducationMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA

Personalised recommendations